A Buckhead resident is leading an effort to transform the clubhouse at the Bobby Jones Golf Course into a recital hall capable of hosting chamber music concerts and personal music lessons. The concept is receiving positive reactions from residents and the historic preservation community.
Underlying the plan is a concern that the historic clubhouse could be demolished as it loses its current golf uses. A Veterans of Foreign Wars post that recently opened in the clubhouse could remain, and the facility could remain open to community events and meetings, organizers say.
Two representatives of the group presented early concepts that call for demolishing walls and building a stage. About 50 people attended an Oct. 16 public meeting held in the clubhouse at 384 Woodward Way and many reacted positively to the idea, clapping at the end of the presentation and thanking the organizers for proposing the idea.
The group is being formed by residents, including Alex Simmons, an attorney who is leading the effort, and members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra acting independently from that organization. Simmons brought the idea to District 8 Councilmember Yolanda Adrean and the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy.
“There is no space like it in the city. It fits a need for the city, but it also will remain a community space,” Simmons said.
Simmons is also working with Jun-Ching Lin, a friend of Simmons who is a violinist at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which is not officially involved with the plan. It is not clear who else is a member of the group.
The formerly city-owned golf course was transferred to the state in a 2016 land swap, which Adrean voted against, and is undergoing its own renovation. A new clubhouse is being built as part of the renovation, so the state had no use for the existing clubhouse, and it is now leased to the city.
The golf operator is moving out of the clubhouse next month, so the clubhouse will have no tenant. That led some to fear that the clubhouse could be demolished.
“I did not want [the clubhouse] to become a casualty of the state takeover,” Adrean said.
Representatives from both the conservancy and the Peachtree Battle Alliance attended the meeting to voice support for the proposal.
“The deal isn’t inked, but there is a lot of momentum and we’re thrilled to be a part of this,” said Catherine Spillman, executive director of the Memorial Park Conservancy.
Spillman said in a later interview that the conservancy’s involvement in the proposal has not been determined yet, but it supports the plan because the group “always wanted to make sure that the building would not be torn down.”
Mark McDonald, the president and CEO of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, said his organization supports the proposal, especially as it would ensure the building is not demolished. The building was once on the group’s “Places in Peril” list, which seeks to raise awareness for historic buildings the group believes are in danger, McDonald said.
“We are delighted that it may be reused as a concert recital hall and believe this is a good solution to the issue. We stand ready to assist all stakeholders and to help to make this a reality,” he said.
James Ottley, president of the Buckhead Heritage Society board, said the organization supports “any use which keeps the building from being razed.”
The building is historically significant, having been built been built in 1941 and adorned with unique relief artwork above the windows, Ottley said.
Adrean authored an ordinance that passed in September that gave the group permission to raise $1 million to show it is committed to the idea and has the support of the public.
There are several more steps to go before the city makes a decision. The group has to raise $1 million by early 2018 before it can begin negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the city. Several more public meetings will also be held, Adrean said. The city would also have to work with the state to approve the use.
Cindy Presto, director of legal services for the Georgia Building Authority, the department that maintains state-owned buildings, said the department does not have a comment other than quoting the legislation about the lease, which affords the city “the right to make improvements to the clubhouse.”
The city of Atlanta did not return a request for comment.
The group proposes to knock out walls on the main level of the clubhouse to build a stage and to expand seating. A patio and bar would also be built
behind the seating area. On the lower level, several rooms would be built to host private music lessons. A rehearsal studio that doubles as a community meeting room and lobby would also be created on the lower level.
There are no plans to expand the parking lot and the building’s exterior would remain unchanged. The designs also call for improving access for disabled people.
The designs are being done by Perkins+Will architect Allen Post, who has designed music halls in the past and lives across the street from the clubhouse.
The building’s architecture, including the domed ceiling, would provide exceptional acoustics for a chamber music concert, Post said.
The city Department of Parks and Recreation currently oversees the clubhouse, but does not have the budget to renovate it the way a private partner could, Adrean said.
“I really think this will bring a great amenity to the city,” she said.
The group also would be required to create an endowment fund that will be used to maintain the building.
The city has not been approached by any other organization to use the clubhouse, but did not put out a request for proposals, Adrean said. Adrean said there are several other similar projects done on city parks with an outside partner that did not put out an RFP.
A formal study on the need and interest for a recital hall in Atlanta has not been done, but Adrean and Simmons have contacted some in the arts community and some have been expressed interest in using the recital hall, Adrean said.
The group is currently submitting paperwork to create the still unnamed nonprofit. The group will not seek donations until the nonprofit is created, Simmons said.